It’s only May, but there’s a good chance we’ve already found our song of the summer. Eclectic Method is back with another pop culture mashup, but this time he’s created an incredibly catchy Drum and Bass earworm by painstakingly assembling the sounds of video game weapons being fired and reloaded.
If you’re afraid of being shot, you’re not alone, and your fears are, unfortunately, justified. Guns kill almost 300 people in America every single day. Even worse, guns and the bullets they fire are not the hyper-precise weapons Hollywood makes them out to be. They’re messy, and they do a lot of damage you can’t see.…
On Tuesday, authorities formally charged three retired NYPD officers and a former city prosecutor for helping get people gun licenses in exchange for a wide range of bribes—from cash to prostitutes to extravagant vacations, BuzzFeed News reports.
The culprits allegedly worked together inside the NYPD's licensing division to run their bribery scheme from 2010 to 2016, CBS News reports. Paul Dean, a former lieutenant, and Robert Espinel, a former officer, are charged with accepting lavish bribes from "expediters" who charge people looking to speed up their firearm licensing.
Gaetano Valastro, a former NYPD detective, allegedly worked as an expediter and bribed Dean and Espinel to move the process along for his clients. Those bribes sometimes came in the form of "cash, paid vacations, personal jewelry, catered parties, guns, gun paraphernalia, and other benefits," according to federal prosecutors. According to DNAinfo, the officers also scored "food, alcohol, parties, dancers, and prostitutes" from other expediters in exchange for their services.
"The alleged corruption pervaded the license division up to its senior level," Joon Kim, acting US attorney for New York's Southern District, said Tuesday.
John Chambers, a former New York assistant district attorney, was also charged Tuesday in the scheme. He allegedly looked to represent people who had issues with getting gun licenses and is accused of bribing David Villanueva—the guy who ran the NYPD's licensing division from 2010 to 2015, but who was arrested back in June of 2016 on corruption charges. According to the criminal complaint, Chambers offered Villanueva a fancy $8,000 watch and tickets to Broadway shows and sports games.
According to BuzzFeed News, Dean, Espinel, and Valastro are facing charges for conspiracy to commit bribery and extortion. Chambers's lawyer, Barry Slotnick, told CBS News that his client will plead not guilty to his conspiracy charges.
This is just the latest development in a long-running corruption investigation of the NYPD's licensing division, launched by the force's internal affairs department and the FBI back in 2013, according to the New York Times. The last big splash came with Villanueva's arrest in 2016, around the same time two top NYPD officers were arrested for accepting bribes in exchange for services unrelated to firearms licensing.
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Check the news and you’re guaranteed to hear to about conflict in some part of the world. But there are a lot of weapon terms getting thrown around without explanation, and even people in the public eye are totally clueless about what these weapons do. Here’s everything you need to know about the MOAB, Tomahawk…
YouTuber Giaco Whatever is on a quest to build a Nerf blaster that will do more than just leave a tiny welt on someone. He’s constructed an air-powered dart cannon that generates 400 PSI of pressure, and when cranked to full power, it can apparently send a Nerf dart flying at Mach 2.3, twice the speed of sound, or…
Last Thursday, President Trump released his first budget proposal, outlining billions of dollars in cuts from programs designed to protect the environment, help the poor, and shore up struggling foreign countries. The way America's new commander-in-chief sees it, most of that money should go to his military, with some siphoned off for extra border security, of course. The plan, a document helpfully titled, "America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again," claims that if we want to reverse the gross atrophy of the Obama era, the government must "make the safety of our people its number one priority—because without safety, there can be no prosperity."
In order to boost the defense budget by $54 billion, Trump hopes Congress will agree to such cuts as large as 28 percent from the budget for the State Department, nearly 18 percent at Health and Human Services and a whopping 31 percent from the Environmental Protection Agency. Oh, and the complete annihilation of federal funding for the arts, humanities, and public broadcasting.
Trump's austerity measures could hit programs that feed elderly Americans, pay to keep homes warm in winter, and supervise working people's kids after school. But in return, Americans would, in theory, enjoy the piece of mind that comes from knowing more and better weapons are out there somewhere, putting the hurt on their enemies. "The military has been forced to make aging ships, planes, and other vehicles last well beyond their intended life spans," the White House says in the document.
But are America's ships, planes, and vehicles really all that decrepit? After all, the United States boasts the costliest military in the world—and it's not like fears of a military-industrial complex have faded in recent years. To find out where this military funding could and should go if Trump actually secures it—this budget remains a mere proposal, requiring passage by Congress—I talked to Adam Routh and Paul Scharre at the Center for a New American Security, a public policy think tank in Washington, DC, focused on the military. They told me the Pentagon could spend the money wisely on modernization and readiness—or easily blow all the extra dough on silly extravagances.
VICE: What is your overall impression of the president's proposed military spending increases?
Adam Routh: In my first impression from reading over the blueprint, it lists a lot of the things we need to do, like improve stocks of critical ammunition, personnel gaps, and deferred maintenance. We need to fix these problems and talk about what the budget needs to do. But the increase is not enough to do all of those things. So you need to decide what is most important and how you leverage that increase efficiently and effectively.
OK, so how much of a dent can this money make, then, compared to what the president has promised to do to the armed forces?
Paul Scharre: I think it's really hard to say, because what's come out is really just a one-page bulleted list, and there are no numbers associated with it. So the types of things, qualitatively, like improving readiness, buying more ships, buying more aircrafts, but how many? Now, Trump has said numbers on the campaign trail. I think one of the challenges is going to be, if he's going to do those things in the actual budget the Pentagon releases, and monetize the force, there is not enough money for that. There's just not. He can't build an army of 540,000 people, 250-plus ships in the navy, and add around 1,200 aircraft. It's just not possible.
But assuming you were going to shower the Pentagon with cash, how would you prioritize new spending?
Routh: I think readiness is probably a priority, as well as modernization. I think you could probably commit all of the increase to modernization without touching readiness if you really wanted to.
What do you mean by "readiness"?
Scharre: Imagine that you own a fleet of delivery trucks that you own for a company. So you have a fixed amount of money, and you decide to spend it on your fleet of delivery trucks. [There are] three attributes that the military is balancing: readiness, modernization, and capacity. Capacity is like how many trucks you have in your delivery fleet. Modernization is how new they are and how good quality they are. Readiness is basically like how much they are being kept up to date. How do you replace the tires when they need to get replaced? Have you changed the oil? When you start to fall behind on that maintenance, it's a longer-term cost as you're wearing it down.
What are some specific examples of areas where additional spending does seem appropriate?
In essence, maintenance and training are the main two things. People have delayed maintenance that was necessary for aircrafts and ships and ground vehicles. Over time, in terms of availability rates, we have things that aren't available to fly. And, in training, it's much more insidious. There's sort of an osteoporosis that sets in the force that becomes brutal. You can't see it; you can't know or measure the effect that happens if [soldiers] haven't been to the range or [pilots] haven't been flying. But then it shows up in things like accidents.
Routh: I think a really good example of this could be seen in Marine Corps pilot hours. Basically, due to the lack of money to maintain flight status, [an] accident happened [in October of last year].
When you say "modernization," are there examples we would see early on if this money got appropriated?
Scharre: The Army in particular very much has a modernization crisis. We haven't really modernized the force in the last 15 years. [They need] active protection systems on ground vehicles that can be used to intercept incoming threats and guided missiles. They could upgrade the sensors, upgrade the guns on their ground vehicles. They have a program of long-range [artillery], where Russia has [already] been investing quite a bit—long-range precision fires that have really fallen behind. That's a place where they need to do more electronic warfare.
Is the military eyeing other new stuff?
In the aviation department, they have modernization programs that are more or less—at this point in time—on track. They're [working on] air-launched swarming drones that would be launched from aircrafts. Technologically, it's doable. They've already demonstrated that capability. They've launched the drones and used them. It's probably not that outrageously expensive, because they're small and cheap. But that's the kind of thing that could probably fit in there.
Does it seem like the White House and Pentagon would spend this money well if they actually get it?
The biggest thing is that the way Trump has talked about building the military, it's just not really what the military needs to be doing. He's just talked about larger numbers. That's not what you need. What we need are more advanced systems.
What kind of things should America not spend this theoretical money on?
Routh: You would probably not want to spend, you know, $6 or $7 billion to do some really new, innovative rail gun. The technology is emerging, and we'll have it soon, but to have it now just means a disproportionate use of the money.
Scarre: The Pentagon loves new technology, and obviously new technology, in the past, has given tremendous advantages. The US Defense industry had things like stealth and the foundations of the internet, so these things matter. They can have big advantages and give great payoffs. But [even though] there's always a fair amount of hype and excitement about new things, you really can get yourself into trouble when it tries to leap ahead to something new that's not needed [yet]. You get into trouble when [the budget] says, "We're going to shoot for the moon, and we're going to do something that we don't really know how to do yet, and we're going to spend a gazillion dollars on it and hope it gets there." That tends to not work very well.
Routh: If you take this money and you add like 90,000 more soldiers to the US Army, but they don't have the equipment to be successful, that's a poor use of your money.
OK, so do you think the military will actually get this cash?
Scharre: The story of this budget isn't really the defense increase—which is not quite as much as they're hyping it to be. It's a reasonable increase; it's 3 percent over the Obama plan's 2018 levels. But the real story of course is the massive cuts in non-defense spending. It looks right now like those aren't going to survive even a Republican-controlled [Congress].
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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Even the most mild-mannered among us can’t spend an afternoon inside a sprawling IKEA warehouse without leaving full of rage. But if you want to drown your frustrations, do it in cheap hot dogs and soft serve ice cream instead of walking out the door, determined to weaponize those tiny IKEA pencils.
In what archaeologists are calling the “find of a lifetime,” a horde of Late Bronze Age weapons has been discovered at a Scottish construction site. Among the items found is a gold-decorated spearhead, and a 3,000-year-old bronze sword in remarkably good condition.
This piece originally appeared on the Trace.
No-compromise gun activists are building momentum for state laws that allow firearms owners to bring their weapons into public spaces without securing the government permits or completing the proficiency training now required in most parts of the country.
Their efforts, which have already led to new laws and legislative proposals across a quarter of the United States, are wrapped in the language of high ideals: Advocates call their preferred policy "constitutional carry," the idea being that the only authorization they need to take their guns wherever they please was extended by the Founding Fathers themselves.
The crusade seems to have begun around a table at a 1950s-themed greasy spoon in Arizona, where four frustrated gun advocates hatched a plan between bites of barbecue.
"We decided that the Constitution means what it says," said Charles Heller, one of the men gathered around the table at the 5 & Diner that summer day.
He didn't mean America's framing document. He meant Arizona's 1910 state constitution, which states: "The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself or the State shall not be impaired." How, the men wondered, could that mean anything but absolute freedom to walk armed anywhere and everywhere?
They didn't have a lot of money to spend on lawyers for court challenges, but each chipped in $300 to found the Arizona Citizens Defense League. Within five years, the group would help make "constitutional carry" the law of Arizona and provide a model for activists in other states to follow.
And they have followed.
As states have steadily passed ever more permissive weapons-carry laws—broadening concealed-permit licenses, lifting bans on carrying guns in bars and government offices, removing shooters' duty to retreat from a threat—"constitutional carry" has become an ultimate frontier for Second Amendment advocates.
Before 2010, two states offered the option of carrying concealed guns in public without a permit. Today, at least ten do. A dozen more state legislatures, including Texas, New Hampshire and Virginia, are expected to consider similar measures in 2017.
"We didn't think it would happen so fast," Heller said.
The concept, rooted in constitutional originalism, assumes that the authors of the Second Amendment envisioned an unfettered right to wield a gun for personal defense. In this view, any limitation on an individual's right to carry guns, however small, is unjust. Full stop. As such, passing constitutional-carry legislation is seen by proponents as a restoration, not an expansion, of gun freedoms.
As with the "campus carry" movement, the push for permitless carry has come from the grassroots more than from the National Rifle Association. While the nation's largest gun lobby champions the latest bills in its press releases, local lobbyists who take the NRA's absolutist rhetoric at face value find themselves chafing at its corporate model of working hand-in-glove with establishment politicians.
The resulting friction has fed into the upheaval taking place within gun politics (and American conservatism as a whole) since the rise of the Tea Party, which has left the NRA frequently following, rather than steering, the emboldened extremes of its coalition. Activists in several states told The Trace that the NRA—which did not respond to requests for comment for this story—has not helped their cause. In one state, they point to direct evidence that the NRA has undercut their proposals.
"Be very clear: It was us that got this done," Heller told me. "The NRA is not in favor of much change."
If "constitutional carry" is a natural American right, enshrined in 1791, one would expect a rich historical record explicating that freedom. But no such record existed until a few years ago. The first state to expressly allow the carrying of a firearm without a license was Alaska in 2003. It wasn't called "constitutional carry" by legislators or reporters: It was known as "permitless" or "Vermont carry," a nod to the New England state's practice, since 1903, of simply not bothering to regulate gun carrying by its residents.
References to "constitutional carry" in news articles are virtually nonexistent before 2010. That's when Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona signed the constitutional-carry bill that Heller's group had been pushing for.
According to Heller, another Citizens Defense League officer who was a neighbor of Brewer's, was encouraged by her to "just go for it all" while they were walking their dogs together. NRA director Chris Cox issued a statement the same day the bill passed, thanking Brewer and the Arizona Legislature for "making Arizona the third state in the nation behind Vermont and Alaska to offer its residents a constitutional carry option."
"We can't figure out what's up with the NRA." —John Harris
Two weeks later, in a stroke of not-coincidental timing, Brewer signed SB 1070—the controversial "papers, please" law to aggressively crack down on undocumented immigrants, a headache for the Obama administration's Justice Department and an ideological and cultural touchstone that galvanized the right. Brewer's provocations made her a darling of the then-nascent Tea Party movement, which just the month before had rallied unsuccessfully in Washington (and at numerous congressional members' local town halls) to prevent passage of the Affordable Care Act.
The movement's accusation against the nation's first black president was that he was an imperialist executive, acting against the Constitution to consolidate power in the federal government. A quarter of Americans and nearly half of Republicans told pollsters that summer that they believed, in the absence of evidence, that Obama was foreign-born, and thus constitutionally ineligible to hold the office. Militia groups like the Oathkeepers, founded by an ex-aide to the libertarian Ron Paul, gained attention for vowing to oppose the "unconstitutional" orders they expected to receive from Obama at any given moment.
Those currents might have been enough on their own to spark the constitutional-carry movement, but it was also helped by the courts. In 2008, the Supreme Court had for the first time explicitly interpreted the Second Amendment to confer an individual, not collective, right to bear arms.
The court's ruling in Heller v. District of Columbia (no relation to the Arizona activist) did not resolve how that newly affirmed right might work outside the home, particularly where concealed guns are concerned. In the absence of legal consensus, state and local gun activists rushed in to fight for legislation that extended the Second Amendment to every sphere of life.
Constitutional-carry supporters were consciously aware of the shift in language, and in the overall argument. In Arizona, Heller said his group has long tried to rewrite the rhetoric of gun rights in ways that reframed the larger debate: Advocates of tighter firearms regulations were not "anti-gun" but "anti-freedom." "Concealed carry" became "discreet carry," suggesting a style choice more than a tactical one.
So it was this label that they adopted for their proposals.
"[S]ome gun rights advocates are attempting to substitute the term 'Constitutional Carry' because in the Constitutional era there were no laws prohibiting concealed weapon carry," David Yamane. a sociologist and gun-culture researcher at Wake Forest University, wrote in 2014. "'Permitless carry' seems the best neutral descriptor to me, though I imagine some would say this normalizes the idea that one must have a government permit to carry."
In fact, that's precisely what constitutional-carry advocates say.
"States that focus on freedom realize that if self-defense truly is a natural-born right, and the Second Amendment truly affirms that natural-born right, you shouldn't have to ask the government for permission to exercise it," Tim Schmidt, president of the US Concealed Carry Association, told the Washington Times last October, after Missouri became the tenth state to allow permitless carry. "Kind of like you don't have to ask the government to exercise the First Amendment."
Of course, the exercise of First Amendment rights is subject to some limitations, largely focused on whether their exercise incites "imminent lawless action" or knowingly commits damaging falsehoods. (Ask a roomful of gun owners whether burning the American flag should be legal to see how little consensus actually exists on First Amendment rights.) Proponents of mandatory safety training and licensing for gun owners wishing to carry in public argue, similarly, that those who seek to exercise their individual right need to show some public responsibility for it.
But for constitutional-carry advocates, no law prevents potentially irresponsible behavior.
"We don't have presumptive regulation," Heller said. "We have punishments for crimes. As long as you don't misbehave, you're fine."
Check out our documentary about buying a gun in Canada.
It's hard to understate how big a shakeup constitutional carry represents to existing state gun policy, a regime shaped largely by the NRA.
In 1987, the group helped Florida become the first state to issue concealed-weapons permits to all qualified residents. Since then, all states have followed suit in some form—again, often with aid from NRA lobbyists.
I am one of those licensees.
My Florida permit came with a pamphlet reminding me where I could not carry my weapon, including government buildings, bars, malls that forbade it, and so on. Because this was before Florida and a radicalizing NRA gave the country "stand your ground" laws, the pamphlet also highlighted my legal duty to seek a retreat from a threatening situation before pulling out my handgun and opening fire. The positions were part and parcel for the NRA of that era, whose leader, Wayne LaPierre, would testify to Congress in 1999 in favor of "mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale, at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for everyone."
Publicly, the NRA of today now forcefully (if fancifully) decries expanded background checks as a backdoor to a national gun registry, and, from there, nationwide gun confiscation. But its actions behind the scenes suggest that the group either regards constitutional carry as a bridge too far, or is willing to abide lawmakers who just aren't ready to take the leap.
Consider the fate of a permitless-carry bill in Tennessee.
"We're the Trumps. We're the grassroots."—Charles Heller
Pro-gun Republicans hold three-quarters of its state House, a whopping 85 percent of Senate seats, and the governor's mansion, yet constitutional-carry legislation died unceremoniously in a Senate committee last spring. The NRA helped kill it, according to John Harris, the longtime executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association, which wrote the doomed bill. The NRA, he said, gave Republican committee members cover by deciding to leave out their votes on the bill when updating the legislators letter grades from the group—an all-important mark of confidence the NRA dangles to conservative politicians seeking to assuage the more restive members of their base.
Harris's assertion is backed up by an analysis by The Trace. Two Tennesee Republicans voted against the constitutional carry bill in committee; another abstained. None were given a letter grade lower than A-minus last year, and all were endorsed by the NRA for re-election later that fall. The regional NRA lobbyist for Tennessee, Erin Luper, declined to comment and referred The Trace to the NRA's general media office, which did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
"We can't figure out what's up with the NRA," Harris said. "On some really critical bills, the NRA almost does as much damage as the anti-gun left."
Heller, in Arizona, echoed that assessment.
"We had the NRA fight us at first" on constitutional carry, he said. He said he believes that the national lobby's side role as "the training mafia" may lead the NRA to drag its feet on measures that could decrease business for NRA-certified trainers who dominate the market for shooting instructors.
"When you say you no longer need to be certified, it disenfranchises instructors and pulls revenue out of their pockets," he theorized.
If that was the assumption, it's turned out to be wrong in most states, according to Heller. Permitless-carry bills create an alternative, rather than a replacement, to concealed-carry permits, which retain some advantages even for the most libertarian gun enthusiast. They provide peace of mind for gun owners stopped by law enforcement officers while carrying, and come with permission to carry in the other states that recognize licenses from the holder's home jurisdiction.
Harris, a legislative attorney who enjoyed "a really strong working relationship" with the NRA before the push for constitutional carry, said he believes a lot of the group's limitations are structural. NRA lobbyists generally cover multiple states, making them part-timers in any given capital. The credentials they earn through their NRA work sometimes makes them short-termers as well. After a few years, Harris said, "They would leave the NRA and go to work for a high-priced lobbying firm." By contrast, he said, most state and grassroots gun groups are run by volunteer, long-time residents.
"Does that play a role in how hard they push?" he said. "I don't know. But it is a distinction."
While some local constitutional-carry activists have found themselves at cross purposes with NRA headquarters, they have received faithful assistance from elsewhere within the Beltway. Harris said his group had benefited from discussions and training on tactics and strategy provided by the Leadership Institute and the Foundation for Applied Conservative Leadership, groups that also train young campus-carry activists and maintain close ties with national Second Amendment organizations to the NRA's right, like Gun Owners of America and the National Association for Gun Rights.
The tactics of the right-to-life and right-to-work movements were another influence, Harris said.
"The state organizations that are effective and aggressive have adopted more of an accountability model," he said, by which he means: they ruthlessly pillory and rally primary challenges against uncooperative Republicans.
Nevermind that the NRA has also sought the hides of politicians who have defied it. To local activists, the national group is a hidebound practitioner of the "appeasement or olive-branch theory of governance" that keeps gun owners from claiming the full liberties owed to them.
Heller, for his part, made valuable ties with other organizers at the Second Amendment Foundation's annual Gun Rights Policy Conference, exporting the Arizona organizing-and-lobbying model to other states like Texas, West Virginia, and Nevada.
"We're the Trumps," he said. "We're the grassroots."
Like President Trump and his top advisor, Stephen Bannon, constitutional-carry activists are unconcerned by any wider distress their agenda may cause. Like the new White House, they see the trampling of existing norms as the removal of obstacles.
"Once you cross over this PC concept," Harris said, "then you have an enormous number of issues that come out of the gate."
Those issues include the abolition of gun-free zones in schools, and deregulation of tightly controlled weapons categories, like suppressors and machine guns, which have been subject to strict laws for nearly a century. Rather than a drastic break with current public safety standards, he said, such changes would merely represent government "getting back on sound fundamental principles."
Heller takes a similar stance.
With the rights of his state's constitutional carriers already restored, his group's new fight is focused on making it harder for private establishments and businesses to keep gun-carrying citizens out. He's not daunted by the legislative slog that may lie ahead.
"Many of our bills have passed on the third or fourth try," he said. "Sometimes it was a change of personnel, sometimes it was just a function of persistence."